In Spain, many people eat late at night, starting between 9:00 and 11:00 pm and lasting through the early morning. There are often several hours between lunch, the end of the work day, and dinner. One of the most popular types of food to eat during those hours is tapas, which comes from the Spanish word “tapar,” or “to cover.” Tapas are basically small versions or portions of different Spanish cuisines, similar to appetizers or snacks.
People may go hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar trying different ones. It’s very common for people to order several different tapas to share rather than a full meal. Tapas can be upgraded to a media ración (half meal portion) or a whole ración (full meal portion) so that everyone has enough to be satisfied. While eating tapas, people engage in conversations between small bites. Some people may choose to stand at tall table tops or walk around to talk to others.
Early tapas were presented on a “tapa”, or pot cover, by innkeepers. These tapas may have been slices of ham or sausage or bread that were served with sherry. Today there are many different types of tapas served in Spain. Some are cold, while others are served hot. Ingredients like Manzanilla or Arbequina olives, tomatoes, sweet peppers, chili peppers, corn, and potatoes have been included over the years. Typical tapas include some type of seafood, chicken, or meat. Seasonings, such as paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, saffron, and olive oil help give tapas their desirable taste. Tapas that are made with a tomato-based sauce or other sauce are usually served with some type of bread. In certain cities, tapas are eaten with some type of drink.
Some of the most interesting tapas are:
- Banderillas, or pinchos de encurtidos – These are cold tapas made from small pickled foods placed on a skewer, like olives, baby onions, baby cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables.
- Cojonuda – A tapa with a slice of Spanish morcilla, served with a fried quail egg over a slice of bread.
- Cojonudo – A tapa made with slice of Spanish sausage, or chorizo, with a fried quail egg placed over a slice of bread.
- Gambas – Tapas made with sautéed prawns cooked in a peppercorn sauce with garlic and chopped chili peppers.
- Mejillones rellenos – Tapas of stuffed mussels.
- Papas arrugadas or papas con mojo – These tapas are very small, new potatoes boiled in salt water. After being drained, the potatoes are roasted and served with garlic, paprika, red pepper, cumin, olive oil, wine vinegar, and bread crumbs to make the sauce thick.
- Pulpo a la gallega or polbo á feira – This tapa is popular in the town of Galicia. The pieces of octopus are served with hot olive oil and seasoned with lots of paprika after being cooked in boiling water.
- Tortilla de patatas or tortilla Española – This is a type of omelet filled with fried chunks of potatoes. Onion may also be added.
- Zamburiñas – These tapas are made with Galician scallops. The seafood dish is usually served in a tomato-based sauce
When visiting Spain, be sure to find a tapas bar. There are so many different tapas to choose from, you may never want to stop eating!